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Doreau: What, you think all women should be barefoot and pregnant?
Hammer: No, I encourage women to wear shoes.
Tucked away in the chaotic wilderness that was the late-night regional ITV schedules of late 1980s here in the UK was a little gem of a US comedy called Sledge Hammer!.
It was a parody/satire of the overly-macho, casually violent cop movies and TV shows of the time, particularly Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films and the TV show Hunter – with a little Police Squad!/Naked Gun-style absurdism thrown in.
David Rasche was outstanding as San Francisco cop Inspector Sledge Hammer, a sexist, intolerant, sadistic, insensitive cop whose best friend is his .44 Magnum handgun – he even slept and showered with it.
The kind of guy who shoots first, doesn’t waste time asking any questions then shoots again, in the pilot episode he was teamed up with new partner Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) a kind, sensitive, cautious and competent officer – in short, everything he was not.
Adding to the parody of popular cop shows of the era (Starsky and Hutch in particular), Hammer’s boss was Captain Trunk (Harrison Page), a scary, short-tempered, shouty African-American.
In addition to the ironic humour generated by Hammer’s outdated attitudes towards women, law-enforcement, violence and society in general, much of the comedy came from the fact that, for all his bluster and opinionated speeches – Hammer’s catchphrase was “Trust me… I know what I’m doing” – he was pretty rubbish at being a cop. Although he usually got the bad guy in the end, it was generally due to sheer luck, getting bailed out by his partner or by leaving a trail of extreme chaos and destruction in his wake. Or all three.
The show, made by ABC, ran for just two seasons between 1986 and 1988. At the height of its fame, the show even had it’s own comic-book spin-off, published by Marvel:
Despite a good critical reception and respectable viewing figures of around 19million in the US, the producers were so sure it would be cancelled after season one that they had Hammer blow up the city at the end of the season finale while trying to defuse a nuclear bomb.
This caused problems when the show was renewed for season two at the last minute – to get round it, they used a soap opera-style spoof plot device, explaining that season two takes place five years before the finale of season one.
Sledge Hammer! was a great little show, ahead of its time in many ways. Both seasons are available on DVD and although, like many 80s shows, the production values of the time mean that Sledge Hammer! shows its age a little when you watch it now, the humour is timeless and it’s well worth a purchase.
Trust me… I know what I’m doing!
In the meantime, here are the opening credits: